Believe it or not, Texas Rangers pitchers and catchers reported to camp Tuesday.
Judging by the news cycle the past two days and the first 2017 edition of The Surprise Five, though, it seems like the full squad has reported and is working out.
No news at this point from the pitching side is a good thing. Everyone seems to be humming right along, and, no, I didn’t just jinx anything.
Thoughts? Here are The Surprise Five.
1. Beltre broke the news of the grade 1 strain in his left calf, and everyone thought he was joking. He said it with a smirk on his face, as if he had one of those “injuries” that veterans seem to get each spring.
The Rangers expect Beltre will need two or three weeks to heal up, a timeframe that could keep him from playing in the World Baseball Classic for the Dominican Republic. If he aggravates the injury, he’s certain to miss the entire tournament and possibly the start of the regular season.
Beltre was quick to note that being ready for the Rangers’ 2017 season is his first priority, but the WBC seemed a not-too-distant second.
That’s goes for him and the Rangers.
Beltre wants to play and said he’s going to play, either in the first round March 9 or in the second round if the Dominican club advances. He won’t play if he’s ailing, but the quick-healing Beltre seems to think he’s going to be just fine.
The Rangers seem to be green-lighting the WBC, though apparenlty not the first round, even though there is a risk of their best player injuring himself further doing something he doesn’t need to do.
Manager Jeff Banister brushed off those concerns by saying that Beltre could get hurt working out at the Surprise Recreation Campus. Beltre said the same thing.
The concern here is that WBC games aren’t spring games. Players play nine innings with far more intensity than a Cactus League game, where regulars play only four or five innings the first half of the schedule.
If any player feels something amiss in a spring game, even if it’s minor and something he’d normally play through during the regular season, he’s lifted from the game and probably gets the next couple days off.
If a player like Beltre, a top-flight competitor, feels something in a WBC game, he might be tempted to play through it and, thus, make it worse.
Beltre pledged that he’d be smart about the injury, saying that the Rangers have too much at stake and he needs to be ready for them. But he’s definitely tying/hoping to be healthy by March 9.
Is anyone else troubled by this? The Rangers don’t seem to be in that crowd.
2. The news of camp before Beltre arrived was that Mike Napoli is officially, finally, a member of the Rangers. Again.
The first two times went pretty well: a World Series trip in 2011, the 2012 wild-card game and a trip to the American League Division Series in 2015. Say what you will about how each of those playoff appearances ended, but the fact remains that each was a playoff appearance and that Napoli is a bona fide winner.
That gets lost in the dismissal of clubhouse chemistry, video of his stroll down Boylston Street and his lifetime .252 batting average. Napoli’s teams almost always win.
The exceptions are the 2010 Anaheim Angels and the 2014 and 2015 Boston Red Sox. Of course, Angels won the AL West from 2007-2009 and the Red Sox won the World Series in 2013. His first two Rangers teams were winners, as were the 2015 Rangers after he was acquired in early August.
He helped his last team, the Cleveland Indians, to the cusp of a world title.
So, that’s eight playoff appearances, seven division titles, three AL pennants and one world championship.
So what’s ahead in 2017 for Napoli’s Rangers? It’s won’t be a cakewalk, not with the on-paper improvements of Houston and Seattle. But the Rangers are also better now than they were a year ago, and at the very least, on paper, they will be contenders.
3. A tough question here: Which player is most adversely affected by the Napoli signing?
A. Joey Gallo
Each can make a case, but the answer is C.
Hamilton, unlike the other three, isn’t on the 40-man roster and must earn a spot. He was going to try to pick up his playing time at first base, which seems less likely with Napoli the everyday first baseman. Hamilton, though, could be a left-handed-hitting complement on days Napoli gets off or gets an unfavorable at matchup against a right-hander.
Hamilton said that he thinks his repaired left knee can hold up in left field, where there is a competition for playing time. He just has to keep from running into walls and diving for balls.
He nailed one aspect of his chances: If he hits this spring, looks like the hitter he was five years ago (yes, it’s already been five years) and stays healthy, his chances are greatly enhanced.
Those are mighty big ifs. But to Hamilton’s credit, he recognizes what he must do and says he has the health to do it. It’s a familiar refrain, but he’s also never had reconstructive knee surgery.
This time might actually be different.
4. In his first interview on his first day in camp, Gallo seemed be resigned to playing at Triple A Round Rock to start the season, at least initially, and Profar, in his first interview on his second camp day, has turned his goal of being an everyday middle infielder toward being an everyday player.
Gallo started his talk with reporters by saying he wants to get major-league at-bats at some point this season. He then said that he still sees a window to make the Opening Day roster,
There are some opportunities for that to happen, even though the odds seem stacked against him. Beltre is going to need days off at third base, and Gallo will help fill in there.
Left field has work available, and in the past Gallo has withstood the running in Globe Life Park’s spacious left field and showed off his strong arm.
On multiple occasions over the off-season, the Rangers talked about sending Gallo to Round Rock to open the season. If that happens he hits there, he will force his way onto the Rangers’ roster.
And that’s the mystery with Gallo, whose bat has performed well at times at Triple A but with work still to do. The Rangers need to find out at some point this season.
The same goes for Profar, who recognizes that his dream of being an everyday middle infielder in the majors will have to be with another club. But he’s with the Rangers and now wants to be in the lineup every day.
It’s possible, technically, if Banister uses the DH spot each game to give players days off. That’s not going to happen, and it’s unlikely that Profar would get games at DH because that limits how his versatility can be used in a game.
So, Profar is also left to play in left, which he is expected to do with the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the WBC. While he’ll be missing out on time in left field in Cactus League play, he’ll be getting it in the WBC.
5. Time to be mildly self-serving.
To keep up on Rangers stories throughout camp, like this Facebook page. There are stories from the past two seasons as well for those who want to feel nostalgic.
The Surprise Five will become a daily feature at some point this spring, but not now. It could be on hold until the first full-squad workout Tuesday or possibly the first game Feb. 25. Our taskmaster baseball editor might alter those plans and demand them know.
This one won’t be the last before then, though.